By Jim Kiernan
It takes few things to really get the attention of New Yorkers, but something landed in the heart of Times Square this morning that will surely fascinate both locals and visitors over the Memorial Day Weekend. A stunning 1:1 scale replica of "Star Wars’" iconic X-wing Starfighter built from LEGO bricks was unveiled today as an interactive fan experience, which also happens to be the 30th anniversary of 1983’s release of "Return Of The Jedi."
MTV Geek was invited by the good folks at LEGO to the super secret hanger located outside of NYC where the massive model made its temporary home for a sneak peek tour before today’s big first public appearance. Everyone on site was sworn to secrecy (even the unsuspecting pizza delivery man), which is certainly not uncommon these days, all in the spirit of keeping a surprise an actual surprise.
During my visit, LEGO Master Builder Erik Varszegi gave me the behind-the-scenes scoop on some of the things that went into the gargantuan undertaking that was the construction the world’s largest LEGO model ever built.
Erik noted that not only are the X-wing’s dimensions screen accurate from tech specs provided by Lucasfilm, but the starfighter is 42 times the size of the LEGO toy construction set.
"It’s based on our retail set you can buy in stores,” he revealed. "We thought it would be a great idea to say ‘What if you took this, scaled it up to the size of what a real X-wing looks like, and here’s the end result.’"
Built by a team of 32 Master LEGO builders located in Klando, Czech Republic over the course of four months, the massive model is comprised of over 5.3 million individual LEGO bricks and weighs nearly 46,000 pounds (which includes the steel infrastructure).
"We’ve had a model building facility in the Czech Republic for 15 years or more. They have been outdoing themselves with every project," Varszegi said. The attention to detail will not be lost on fans, from the four cannons, to the X-wing’s nose, to the landing gear.
"It's built using all the same parts kids can find at home. So in theory if somebody had 5 million bricks lying around, they could build their own X-wing," he laughed.
"It's funny seeing it in toy form. Toys are always exaggerated anyway. It's more bulky, blocky and kid friendly. It's probably a more massive, pumped up version than if you were to put the real X-wing prop next to it. It probably looks like it beats that out."
Seeing it in person, in LEGO form or not, I admit it was a pretty awesome sight as a life long Star Wars fan, all the more so with it sitting in an actual plane hanger.
The journey from the Czech Republic was only the first part of the ship’s trek prior to today’s heralded debut. It was shipped to the hanger in 34 separate pieces, taking up five huge containers and then re-assembled Stateside.
“It was delivered here May 1st, after a month long ocean voyage and then brought here to this hanger. We needed a site close by we could assemble for our stage runs through. And we’ve been here for the past couple of weeks putting everything together and smoothing out any bumps along the way.”
Standing 11’ feet high, measuring 43’ long and boasting a wingspan of 44’, the model can seat multiple fans for photo ops in the cockpit. The four rear engines, which light up to a glowing neon red, replicate the authentic familiar iconic hum created by Skywalker Sound decades ago.
Erik also took to his on-site computer and demonstrated the LEGO Brick Builder program, an in-house tool available only to professional LEGO model designers. He explained any 3D object can be imported and then translated to LEGO construction specs.
The builders and designers can then get an approximate count of how many LEGO bricks are necessary for the project, but it’s up to them regarding which bricks are necessary. The fun end result is it always utilizes the materials in any construction set available on toy shelves.
Erik also shared a great story that can only happen when your temporary Rebel Alliance base of operations is working plane hanger.
“Last night we had the hanger doors open and a corporate jet pulled in. The pilot got out and he happened to peek inside and asked 'What is this?’ He had to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement and everything. Anyone who walks in the door we bombard with secrecy. We had this jet outside with this pilot and he was like a little kid. As close as you can come to being an X-wing pilot when you grow up is to fly real planes. So he came in we let him sit in the cockpit. He was all happy and excited about this. We were comparing stats between our planes and his corporate jet. The wingspans were roughly the same, but his plane weighed 26,000 pounds. Ours outweighed his by tens of thousands. So that was a funny little statistic had no idea of. Everyone who has come in and gotten a glimpse of it has been in in shock and awe of it.”
After the ship was tested and approved, it was prepped for its next trip to Times Square on flatbed trucks, driven into Manhattan last night, and assembled again during the wee hours hidden under a tent until the time for its unveiling.
"It was conceived and designed to get as many kids in as possible during the course of the event." I will assume that hopefully includes kids of ALL ages.
If you are visiting New York City this holiday weekend, be sure to stay on target and check out what’s sure to be an amazing interactive attraction. It won’t be hard to find, it’s much bigger than a womp rat.
You can also read up on MTV Geek’s coverage of today’s big unveiling.